Lambda Legal and ARCW Resolve Discrimination Case on Behalf of HIV-Positive Woman Denied Surgery

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"When we brought this lawsuit, it put doctors everywhere on notice: you don't get a free pass to discriminate."
December 28, 2010

(Milwaukee, WI, December 28, 2010) —Today, Lambda Legal and the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) announced that the discrimination lawsuit they brought on behalf of Melody Rose, a woman living with HIV who was denied gallbladder surgery, has been resolved.

Ms. Rose is a Wisconsin woman who alleged she was denied surgery by Steven M. Cahee, M.D., the Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, S.C. and Agnesian Healthcare, Inc., because of concerns the doctor had regarding his own health. Prior to resolution of the matter, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin rejected the defendants' argument that Ms. Rose lacked sufficient evidence to prove her claims at trial.

"Ms. Rose is pleased that this lawsuit has been resolved," said Scott Schoettes, Staff Attorney with Lambda Legal's HIV Project. "When we brought this lawsuit, it put doctors everywhere on notice: you don't get a free pass to discriminate based on unfounded fears regarding the transmission of HIV."

In 2008, Melody Rose was suffering from gallbladder disease when her physician referred her to Dr. Steven Cahee at the Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, a facility operated by Agnesian Healthcare, to have her gallbladder removed. Dr. Cahee, however, refused to perform the surgery after learning about Ms. Rose's HIV status. Thereafter, a surgeon at a different medical facility removed Ms. Rose's gallbladder in what is considered a routine procedure. Lambda Legal and ARCW filed suit against all three defendants under various federal and state antidiscrimination statutes. Defendants denied the allegations. The case was set for trial, but is now resolved.

"Health care professionals must rely on sound medical science rather than personal misconceptions and bias," said Rebekah Kopec-Farrell, Director of the Legal Services Program at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW). "Doctors should be our first line of defense in the fight against the misinformation and fear that fuels such stigma and discrimination."

The case is Melody J. Rose v. Steven M. Cahee, M.D., the Fond du Lac Regional Clinic, S.C. and Agnesian Healthcare, Inc., No. 09-CV-0142.

Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Staff Attorney, is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by co-counsel Rebekah Kopec-Farrell of AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and Kathryn Devine and Matthew B. Mock of Schiff Hardin LLP.

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Contact Info

Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267; jadams@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

ARCW provides HIV medical, dental and mental health care as well as legal services, housing assistance, and food pantries to people with HIV throughout Wisconsin.

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